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A is for Atom

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A is for Atom

Publication date 1953
Digitizing sponsor General Electric Company
Animated classic presenting what an atom is, how energy is released from certain kinds of atoms, the peacetime uses of atomic energy and the byproducts of nuclear fission.


Presents in lay terms what an atom is, how energy is released from certain kinds of atoms, the peace-time uses of atomic energy and the by-products of nuclear fission.

Ken Smith sez: This animated short is one of the better "benevolent atom" films released in the '50s. The elements are depicted as humans with giant molecule heads; radioactive elements are shown dancing frantically. Atomic Energy is a giant glowing outline man. Great mid-'50s free-form art backgrounds. Best scenes: 1) Dancing molecules bouncing into each other in "Element Town" and 2) the majestic, ethereal atomic giant seen straddling the Earth at the end of the film.

Although the "Atoms for Peace" campaign was formally launched in 1957, corporate America began to promote peaceful uses of atomic energy as early as the first few months after Hiroshima. A Is For Atom, an artifact of this effort, takes this highly loaded and threatening issue straight to the public in an attempt to "humanize" the figure of the atom.
A Is For Atom speaks of five atomic "giants" which "man has released from within the atom's heart": the warrior and destroyer, the farmer, the healer, the engineer and the research worker. Each is pictured as a majestic, shimmering outline figure towering over the earth. "But all are within man's power Ñ subject to his command," says the narrator reassuringly, and our future depends "on man's wisdom, on his firmness in the use of that power."
General Electric, a long-time manufacturer of electric appliances, power generation plants, and nuclear weapon components, is staking a claim here, asserting their interest in managing and exploiting this new and bewildering technology. Its pitch: this is powerful, frightening, near-apocalyptic technology, but managed with firmness, it can be profitable and promising. This "Trust us with the control of technology, and we'll give you progress without end" pitch resembles what we've seen in films like General Motors' To New Horizons (on the Ephemeral Films disc). But the automobile, of course, wasn't a weapon of mass destruction.
In its first two years of release, A Is For Atom was seen by over seven million people in this version and a shortened ten-minute theatrical cut. In 1953 it won first prizes in both the Columbus (Ohio) and Turin (Italy) Film Festivals, the Freedoms Foundation Award, an "oscar" from the Cleveland Film Festival, and a Merit Award from Scholastic Teacher. In 1954 it won first prize in the Stamford Film Festival, a Golden Reel Award from the American Film Assembly, and a second Grand Award from the Venice Film Festival. The film was remade in the mid-sixties and is still available for rental.
Like other John Sutherland films, A Is For Atom presents a portentious message in a visually delightful and often self-deprecating manner. "Element Town" and its quirky inhabitants, including hyped-up Radium and somnolent Lead, is unforgettable, and the animated chain reaction manages to avoid any suggestion of nuclear fear.



Reviewer: reactorbear - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - April 25, 2016
Subject: Classy Educational Film
General Electric as well as Westinghouse, Bell Telephone and many other research companies produced a plethora of educational films for the public school systems and documentary television.

"A is for Atom" is, along with the Bell Telephone Science Series, considered to be one of the best educational science films ever produced. The 1952 version is in public domain and easy to find. The improved 1964 version is more difficult to obtain.

In 14 short minutes the film is able to explain the structure of an atom, the function and layout of the Periodic Chart of the elements, as well as industrial and medical applications of nuclear science. It manages to do so in a highly enticing manner.

Those who call it "propaganda" do so because they call anything propaganda that goes against their beliefs. The film is simply a science film that is representing a specific facet of energy production and application, nothing more nothing less. It is a high quality film, that does not suffer the overt political bias that many of today's so-called "educational" productions do.
Reviewer: saberimani - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - September 30, 2010
Subject: A is for Atom
A is for Atom
Reviewer: Adriano Pieres - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - June 16, 2010
Subject: Tranlsate to Portuguese
I have a translation to Portuguese, free. Please contact me and I will send.
Reviewer: marinela - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - May 16, 2008
Subject: the best video i have seen
This is the best i have seen and presented to a class. Keep up the great work!
Reviewer: Yeaawight - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - January 29, 2008
Subject: This in Standard Def (720 by 480)
Does anyone now where I can get this cartoon in Sandard Definition (720 by 480)?
Reviewer: cyberhacker665 - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - December 22, 2006
Subject: Good
very educational and entertaining. A must have download.
Reviewer: smcelectronics - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - December 22, 2006
Subject: An informative ACCURATE explaination
Accurate, informative, explaination and information on some of the uses of radioactivity
and byproducts of nuclear research....
but of course, it HAS to be propaganda
because it came from the United States
and the evil men who developed the technology.

Other reviewers take heed,
if you get inoperable Cancer, make sure
you refuse radiation treatment because many
of the techniques, research and materials
developed to treat Cancer with radiation
came from the same evil propaganda-
producing companies - General Electric
and Westinghouse.
Reviewer: bread - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - October 7, 2006
Subject: Enjoyable propaganda film!
One of the most enjoyable propaganda films ever made, I loved this wonderfully animated film. It's very Retro, and since i like retro, i enjoyed this ad. If you like the animation of 50's cartoons, you will enjoy this film. It's very optimistic, Capturing a time before we knew the dangers of nuclear power. I'm against nuclear power, but that dos not stop me from loving this film. I wonder what people thought of it when it was released? I'm very curious. Worth downloading!
Reviewer: citizine - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - April 15, 2006
Subject: A is for Apathy
A classic piece of Civil Defense propaganda. Love that old CD logo. A pyramid? Laying it on a little thick there, "them." Still don't think its propaganda? Um, GE paid for it...GE! Who better to promote atomic energy?

While surprisingly informative for propaganda (iodine 131, take a note), its declaration of the UN being "Men of Good Will" is disturbingly hilarious. Laden with double-speak ("War for Survival") this globalist-animation makes the "New World of the Atomic Age" look pretty frightening. I mean those gouache matte paintings are gorgeous...but electric giants, mad german scientists and hypnotic kings? I see them in my nitemares. Try bringing in the NWO with puppies and daisies, fools.
Reviewer: Venckman - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - August 15, 2005
Subject: The stylin' Atomic Age!
This is an excellent cartoon that's both very entertaining and surprisingly informative. The clarity with which it dispatches its educational payload would make it a pretty effective teaching tool today, and the animation is incredibly stylish. The film has the very optimistic tone and it's interesting to see what predictions have come to pass (medical research), and what have not (nuclear planes and trains!). Great stuff.
Reviewer: FortiethNumber - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - August 3, 2005
Subject: Excellent!
I'd just like to make the point that this film doesn't say that 'men of science' discovered radioactivity like was suggested, what it actually says is: "...its discovery gave men of science an idea...".

This film is great. The depth is astonishing. The manages to touch on subjects like binding energy, strong nuclear force and Einstein's mass-energy principle - not in detail obviously, but it's all here...
Despite this though, it still remains really clear in the way it presents concepts.
I wish this was used as a teaching video when I was at school!
Reviewer: tohoscope - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - April 28, 2005
Subject: Space Age Design
The animation in this short is top notch. The visul design is true Space Age stuff, worth watching for style alone.
Reviewer: Elmer McJimsey - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - March 31, 2005
Subject: Men of science
The one part of this that made me spit up my beer laughing was the remark that "Men of Science" discovered the radioactivity of radium. I believe that Marie Curie recieved the Nobel Prize for that discovery...
Reviewer: Elmer McJimsey - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - March 31, 2005
Subject: Men of science
The one part of this that made me spit up my beer laughing was the remark that "Men of Science" discovered the radioactivity of radium. I believe that Marie Curie recieved the Nobel Prize for that discovery...
Reviewer: clarinetalex - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - April 25, 2004
Subject: Informative
This is a very good film. The animation is extremely cool (not just because its from 1953). Also, the film is very informative even though it was produced so long ago. In addition, it is extremely interesting and entertaining. I give it 5 stars. Bravo!
Reviewer: WWWWolf - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - March 28, 2004
Subject: Most informative!
This isn't bad one at all, apart of, ahem, cheesiness displayed by this era's films in general. Even when it's slightly dated, I wouldn't hesitate to use this as an educational film even today - with some further discussion and clarifications, of course. Quite informative.
Reviewer: trafalgar - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - March 15, 2004
Subject: Classic
The definitive introduction to the Atomic Age, through fantastic, imaginative animation. An absolute classic, for reasons both intentional and otherwise, and a pleasure to look at. Highly recommended.
Reviewer: DrAwkward - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - October 23, 2003
Subject: Beautiful
Though it has a questionable agenda and is especially glib about the reasons for developing and using the A-bomb, this film does a couple of things pretty well. It explains atomic physics to the layman in a very clear if reductive manner, and it sports some of the most beautiful animation probably ever used for such a purpose. The film is amazing to watch for the amimation alone.
Reviewer: jsmeda - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - October 20, 2003
Subject: A is for Atom
I really enjoyed the presentation. Although somewhat dated, the material presented is actually very factual. This would be a terrific film to show young scientist. Obviously it was created to usher in the nuclear age.
Reviewer: rsmith02 - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - July 7, 2003
Subject: The Atomic Age Beckons
A is for Atom is primarily a pop-science film, intended to combat fear of atomic energy by explaining how it works scientifically. The result is an impersonal atom, less Oppenheimer's "destroyer of worlds," than a useful friend. The chain-reaction of atomic fission looks no more frightening than a game of neutron pool, and deadly radiation is similar to an ordinary X-ray, and kept safely behind concrete walls.

General Electric promises a flurry of uses for atomic energy, from power to our cities to isotopes for medical research. At this point, commercial nuclear power plants had yet to be built, and nuclear-powered trains, planes, ships were wonders on the horizon. Just as unstable elements are transmuted to lead, the nightmarish monster of atomic war is transmuted into a gentle giant of industrial progress.

A is for Atom leaves us with the message "On man's wisdom.. on the firmness of the use of his power depends the future of his children." General Electric meant that only the use of atomic energy would allow mankind to fulfill its potential. In retrospect, the lack of wisdom of GE and government scientists and engineers, who oversold the potential for atomic energy, downplayed its dangers, and rationalized the deaths of thousands of workers and civilians from radiation make the "atomic age" nothing but a relic of 1950s thought.
Reviewer: srogers - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - January 31, 2003
Subject: Spot the Propaganda
This film opens with an atomic blast and a brief mention of the UN as a force in keeping nuclear weapons in check, but quickly turns to explain nuclear power and its peaceful uses. Nuclear energy is presented as a force of nature that can be used for great benefit, as opposed to the common view today that nuclear energy is "scary". The viewer will have to determine what aspects of the old and new views of nuclear energy is propaganda.

Technically, the film is fairly accurate, though the strong nuclear force is presented as glue. The film's graphic style is very much in line with the 50's.
Reviewer: Christine Hennig - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - January 29, 2003
Subject: A Is for Atom
This one should have been called Our Friend, the Atom. Think of a movie with that title and you'll come pretty close to this 50s animated film about atomic energy. It does a pretty good job of explaining the basics of nuclear physics (or an oversimplification of the basics), but its visual metaphors are simultaneously bizarre and very representative of 50s culture. Example: Stable elements live respectable lives in 50s houses, while radioactive elements spend all night partying, hopping from bar to bar, until their energy burns out and they become one of the stable masses. Atomic energy is always presented with gee-whiz awe, as the latest scientific marvel of the 20th century, and even though atomic weapons and atomic explosions are portrayed, it's not even hinted at for a moment that there could possibly be any downside to this wonderful discovery ("miraculous" is a word that is used frequently). The visuals tell the story, however. Atomic Energy as a construct is portrayed as a ghostlike giant man who looks sort of like a robot version of Mr. Clean, only huge. And there's lots of them, looming over factories, farms, hospitals, power plants, and other places atomic energy is used. The cumulative effect is that of an atomic Big Brother watching over us all. This is a powerful metaphor for the frightening presence of nuclear weapons and their mass destructive power, but it's completely unconsious, which makes it far more disturbing to my mind. This makes the film a classic of the atomic scare film genre.
Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ****. Weirdness: ****. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: *****.
Reviewer: op712 - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - January 3, 2003
Subject: The Atomic Age
Excellent educational film from 1952. I'm from Idaho Falls, and visited that AEC (now the INEEL)site a few times in my earlier years out there in the desert. True, Atomic city was the first city to be powered from nuclear power. The 1950's were definitely an era of the education of the Atom since we had to prepare ourselves the Soviet threat of war during that time, for it was the height of the era of the Cold War. (Mr. Spuzz needs to learn a little more of our American history so he can be a little more appreciative and broadminded of events that took place in this country).
Reviewer: Spuzz - favoritefavorite - December 9, 2002
Subject: B is for Blinding!
Interesting, if somewhat simplistic detailing of how atoms came to change our daily lives. Somewhat boring scientific mumbo-jumbo thrown in.. this is not the most entertaining film in the world, but is sure one of the scariest.
Reviewer: Red Rocket - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - September 21, 2002
Subject: very enjoyable
i liked this animation short very much. great early 50's animation. and narration too. it is however a propaganda film produced by general electric. a big pioneer in the "atomic age". if you are ever on us highway 20/26 through idaho, stop at the inel (idaho national engineering laboratory) near atomic city. the worlds first atomic power plant is there as well as two nuclear jet engines. both were built by general electric. neither was effective. jfk killed the program in 61. you can also see the secert stuff in the distance.
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